Why Pre-Orders Matter: The Essentials of Early Books Sales and the Secrets to Win ‘Em

Early book sales are key. For those not yet fully indoctrinated into the publishing world, we’re talking online sales of a book before it’s officially released. We call them pre-orders. And they’re essential.

Pre-orders hold the magic. For media, publishers, retailers, and consumers, they represent your book’s potential. Those early sales numbers truly set the stage for how momentum will build and whether sales will skyrocket.

Pre-orders set the stage for how momentum will build and whether book sales will skyrocket. Click To Tweet

Over the past couple of years—and especially in the past nine months—I’ve been asked often about why pre-orders are important and how to build a strong campaign around them.

A solid book marketing campaign starts months ahead of release date, and it pushes pre-order sales 60-90 days prior to when the book actually hits shelves.

Why? Here are four essential reasons that pre-orders matter.

Pre-orders open the possibility for bestseller lists.

All pre-orders count toward first-week sales, and since bestseller list placement is based on a single week’s worth of sales, rolling all early sales into that first week offers authors their best chance of hitting a bestseller list. (Note: The most well-known bestseller list, the New York Times, is mysterious and fairly subjective, often looking at factors beyond just sales. While out-of-the-park first week sales are necessary, they don’t guarantee anything.)

Pre-orders cause retailers to increase their initial orders.

When buyers for retailers like Amazon and Books-a-Million see strong pre-order numbers far ahead of the release date, they’ll likely increase their initial order. Solid pre-order movement is a key sign of momentum to come, and it’s the best way to prove to a retailer that they should bring in lots of stock. An author’s enemy is empty shelves (both online and offline shelves), and this is a real threat if retailers don’t buy a big order upfront. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times. As an author, pre-orders are the best way to ensure stock. This is especially true for Amazon. Your pre-orders will give their system a good idea of how your product will sell, therefore letting you avoid the dreaded, “Out of stock, will ship in 2 to 3 weeks.”

Pre-orders build anticipation toward launch day.

Talking about the book early and giving fans a chance to purchase months before release is key for creating product momentum right out of the gate. Those who pre-order will be your biggest evangelists as they anticipate the coming book (pre-orders do not ship until the book’s release date) and spark buzz about it. Rather than one single sales spike on or around launch day, pre-orders allow for lots of mini spikes leading up to the day. Sales tend to be synonymous with online buzz, so you’re kicking the momentum into place early and consistently.

Pre-orders allow you to test messaging in advance.

Calling for early book sales months before launch date gives you the perfect opportunity to test your messaging before the book is even officially in the marketplace. In the months leading up to the release date, be strategic about the language you use to communicate with your audience and be intentional to note what resonates and what doesn’t. Message testing is always a necessary part of any marketing campaign, and your pre-order push is an ideal time to learn your audience and adjust as needed for optimal sales at release.

So, you get it. Pre-orders are important. But how do you drive sales so early? There are some proven secrets to making a pre-order campaign effective. Below are essential strategies that will make all the difference.

1- Pre-order incentives for single copy or bulk buys

Offer the consumer a killer freebies package if they pre-order one copy or multiple copies of the book. The offers should be clearly laid out on your book landing page, complete with images to show the full value of each “pre-order package.” (Screenshot below is from Judah Smith’s Life Is ___ campaign.)

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As you decide what items to give away within each “level” (meaning, what you give away for one copy, for 2-9 copies, for 10+ copies, etc.), consider your audience and choose freebies that represent major value to them. Make the offers (especially the 10+ offer) highly irresistible. For maximum ease of process, I suggest giving away all digital freebies so that you can send all items as downloadable links in an email.

My team always sets up the pre-order incentives system by directing buyers to purchase at an online retailer and then asking them to come back to your book landing page to input their information and receipt number. An automated email system (or an assistant) will communicate with them and send the freebies links.

Be sure that your messaging is very clear in explaining that these pre-order deals will go away the day before the book officially releases. The “urgency” mental trigger in this language is highly effective.

2- Giveaway campaign around pre-orders

I’m big on a two-pronged strategy to drive pre-orders. The first prong is the pre-order incentives plan, stated above. The second part of the strategy is a giveaway campaign. The goals of the giveaway campaign are to drive traffic to the site where you’re offering the pre-order incentives and to generate leads.

Here’s how it works: you do one huge giveaway or smaller weekly giveaways. Choose the giveaway item based on the needs of your target audience, and make it so good that entering into the campaign is a no-brainer for them. It could be anything from free house-cleaning for a year, to a free GoPro, to a Google Hangout with the author, to a ticket to a big trip or small local event.

Share the giveaway opportunity through every medium you have. Spread the word like crazy and build up the buzz. People will come to the landing page to learn more, and there they’ll encounter your pre-order incentives (above). Additionally, they’ll opt in to be considered for the giveaway by giving you their email.

3- Early launch team power to drive pre-orders

Your launch team is your best marketing asset. (Check out last week’s post about the basics of a launch team.) Organize and empower them early to be ready to advocate for pre-order sales.

Explain to your launch team the power of pre-orders and how they’re essential for success. Language that invites these fans into your pre-order goal and makes them a key part of the team effort is critical and motivating. Rally them around your book by creating community and a common mission.

Keep ease and practicality in mind. Equip these people to drive pre-orders by giving them very clear tasks. It could be that on a specific Tuesday, you’re asking them to promote the pre-order incentive by tweeting about it with certain messaging. And maybe on Friday, you’re asking them to share about their favorite part of the pre-order package. (They’re not robots; let them add lots of personality… but remember that they’re people with busy lives. Quick and easy action steps will win.)

Always, always, always remind your team to use the hashtag (if appropriate) and a URL. With everything they tweet, the goal is to drive traffic to a purchase site or to the landing page. A link is key to doing so.

4- Influencer support for early sales

Just as you’d reach out to your influential friends and colleagues for book support at launch, connect with these people early and invite them to help you drive early sales. Just as with the launch team, your language in this request is key. Be humble and tell the importance of pre-orders, sharing that this book is your heart and pre-orders are an important part of getting that message into the world.

Connect with influencers in a personal way—whether through an influencer kit, a handwritten note, or something creative—and be ready to equip them with exactly what they need to share on social media or a blog. You could send along pre-made tweets, or you could set up a hidden subpage on your website that is all about equipping influencers with tweets, info, memes, etc.

Ask these folks to talk about the book, and especially, to talk about the awesome value-packed incentives that you’re giving away right now. Keep in mind: there’s a balance to be managed between putting all your influencer ammo into driving pre-orders and saving some of it to hit closer to launch day. There’s no magic formula here, but be strategic.

5- Integrating your own platforms

Strategically use all of the communications media that you own to get the word out early about your book. Use your social media platforms, your blog, and your email list. These assets are essential because they’re yours (you have control!), and because they hold immense power when integrated with each other and with the advocacy of a launch team and influencers.

Talk about the book starting at least 60-90 days out. If you are creative and strategic, you won’t wear your audience out or become repetitive. Share how enthusiastic you are about the pre-order incentives and the giveaway campaigns, but also, talk about the value of the book, your favorite parts, the “behind the scenes” process of writing it, and more. There are strategic ways to seed content via Twitter, to email specific excerpts, and to give sneak peeks through Instagram. Think about ways to share the book’s mission across platforms.

Also, be sure to use your platforms to leverage your influencers’ and launch team’s support. Retweet as you can. Share about big endorsements via email. Let one area of buzz spark another.

Missed the boat on pre-orders?

I hear that a lot. Authors tell me their book is now in the marketplace, and they didn’t rack up any pre-orders. Is it too late? The answer is no; it’s never too late. As long as there’s a product on shelves, there’s an opportunity to market.

Use the strategies listed above (purchase incentives, giveaway campaigns, etc.) to build momentum and buzz now, wherever you are in your book’s life cycle. While there’s nothing quite like the power that comes from a product about to hit the marketplace, it’s never too late to incentivize purchase in creative ways.